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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue prepare for enigma

Nobody knows anything about them, so Redblacks tough to game plan

Posted: 07/2/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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It's been all Willy and no won't he for Bombers QB Drew Willy, who will lead the troops into battle against the Redblacks Thursday.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

It's been all Willy and no won't he for Bombers QB Drew Willy, who will lead the troops into battle against the Redblacks Thursday. Photo Store

So here's an interesting puzzle -- How do you prepare your football team to play a game against an opponent who will be playing their first regular-season game in franchise history?

That's the challenge facing the Bombers as they try to figure out the enigma that will be their opponent at Investors Group Field on Thursday evening -- the brand spanking new Ottawa Redblacks.

A few central themes emerged Tuesday afternoon as that question was shopped around the Bombers locker-room at IGF, where the club held its final full practice before facing Ottawa.

"It's a little like playing in the pre-season," offered Bombers defensive end Jason Vega. "You're playing against guys you've never seen before. And you're not really sure who you're going to see until maybe the day before, when they finally release the roster.

"So it's one of those things where you focus on what you're doing as a team and just execute as well as possible."

Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said he repeated that one mantra -- worry about what you can control -- to his team this week as they prepare to play a most unusual opponent.

"If you feel you don't know enough about your opponent, the way to combat that is to know more about yourself. Know yourself cold so you can execute no matter what is in front of you. So that's the way we approach it."

Of course, all of that sounds easier than it is in a sport in which your opponent's task is to disrupt all your best laid plans. Indeed, that's precisely why film study has always been so central to the preparations of football teams, much more so than in the other three major North American team sports.

The problem with the expansion Redblacks, of course, is that so little film exists of their team, aside from whatever limited tracks they left behind in two pre-season games last month. And even much of that will no longer even be relevant, with so many of the players that appeared in the pre-season now long gone from Ottawa.

So what to do? Well, Bombers offensive tackle Glenn January says his team this week went deep into the film vault to identify clues and tendencies in the coaching staff and players that have collectively assembled in Ottawa.

"It's not a perfect situation for us, that's for sure," said January. "But we spent some time this week going on a bit of a scavenger hunt trying to find some film. We went pretty deep. We went back and grabbed whatever film we thought could help us, regardless of era."

But it's not just a lack of film that make the Redblacks a tricky opponent. January points out the way the Redblacks were put together -- in large part via an expansion draft made up of throwaways from other teams -- will make for a very motivated opponent with chips on their shoulders this week.

"It's an emotional wave that they're going to be feeling out there," says January. "It's the first game of the franchise. And then with so many players that were castoffs from other teams -- good players, quality players -- there's going to be a bunch of guys out there feeling like they have something prove.

"It's a great challenge for us this week. And to get a chance to be a part of history like this is fun for us. So there's motivation on both sides of the ball."

NOTES: QB Drew Willy was named the CFL offensive player of the week.

Willy completed 19 of 27 passes for 308 yards, four TDs and one interception in his regular-season debut for the Bombers against the Argos last Thursday.

The Bombers did not make Willy available for comment to the media on Tuesday.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2014 C3

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